In his new book, Jason Stellman, the cohost of the popular podcast, Drunk Ex-Pastors, explores a vision for a wider interpretation of Christianity and why “failing at faith” can be an “ironic success” in an unpredictable world.
What inspired you to write Misfit Faith?
Believe it or not, Misfit Faith is a completely different book from the one I was originally contracted to write. The initial plan was to write a book that sought to argue for and justify my leaving my Protestant ministry and converting to “the Dark Side” (Catholicism). So I wrote an entire book about that, but when it was finished I read it over and just hated it!
Over the course of writing, I was undergoing a pretty radical spiritual change. I lost my desire to argue and debate with people. I just stopped caring if people agreed with me or not, which for me was huge. So there I was, a newly non-polemicist with a very polemical book! I asked my publisher if I could scrap the whole thing and start from scratch, and thankfully they agreed. Misfit Faith is the result.
As far as the inspiration for it goes, I have always taken great comfort in G.K. Chesterton’s insistence that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” I have never felt like I’m any good at faith or spirituality, but sucking at something worthwhile is okay with me. In fact, when we consider that Christianity is all about grace, it becomes clear—albeit incredibly ironic—that doing it wrong is actually the best way to do it right.
Misfit Faith: Confessions of a Drunk Ex-Pastor
Jason J. Stellman
What’s the most important take-home message for readers?
God loves misfits. So many people have walked away from the faith because they grew up believing that they needed to have everything in order—they needed the perfect marriage and family, their shirts neatly tucked in, and so on. I call bullshit on that. If Jesus taught anything, it’s that those who think they’re good at all this are the ones who don’t get it, and those who know they’re failures are the ones who actually understand his message.
Is there anything you had to leave out?
Haha, other than the entire first draft?! Yes, even this second iteration had a lengthy first chapter that made the book way too long, and my editor wisely suggested I nix it. There was some good stuff in there—I sort of explained the role of interpretive paradigms and sought to explain how a basic set of Catholic assumptions about the gospel are way more likely to have given rise to the New Testament texts than a set of Protestant ones. But in the end, it still smacked of argumentation, and it didn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the book.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?
When it comes to God, so many of us were raised with this idea of God as a creator and eventual judge. We have the whole line about how “God made man and placed him in Eden, but man’s sin has estranged him from God to the point where God has no other choice but either to torture man for all eternity in hell or beat the crap out of his own Son on the cross to assuage his own inflexible holiness and searing wrath.”
What I try to do in the book is refocus the discussion on God as a father (you know, the whole Trinity thing, which is kind of a big deal). If grace perfects nature rather than overturning it, then it follows that whatever ideas we have about earthly fatherhood are consistent with, but stop far short of, the archetype of God’s heavenly fatherhood. If I wouldn’t waterboard my own kid for a trillion years because he didn’t honor me enough or forgot to brush his teeth before bed, then how much less will God behave in this way toward his own children?
God is love, is what I’m saying.
Did you have a specific audience in mind when writing?
I suppose I was just trying to speak to a similar crowd as the one that listens to my podcast: open-minded millennials and Gen-Xers who can’t help but question the status quo, many of whom are post-evangelical or post-Christian altogether. I want them to know that a bit of free thinking and iconoclasm never hurt anyone, and that God can handle our occasional wrestling against him. He’s not nearly as petty as many of his spokespeople portray him!
Are you hoping to just inform readers? Entertain them? Piss them off?
I know that my book will be a bit scandalous to those who are theologically uptight, but that’s fine. I spent so much of my life suppressing my humanity and apologizing for being human at all, and I guess I’m just over it now. It’s grace or nothing as far as I am concerned. I want Misfit Faith to be informative, but I want it to entertain and ruffle feathers as well. All I ask is that people engage it with an open mind and heart and let it challenge them to step out of their comfort zones a bit (or a lot).
What alternative title would you give the book?
If I had titled it Faith for Fuck-Ups I am convinced I would have either sold zero copies, or millions.
How do you feel about the cover?
I am thrilled with it! We batted around a couple different ideas early on, and I didn’t like them at all. I suggested the liquor bottle, and the design team came up with the idea to embed it in stained glass, which I think is brilliant. I added the halo, and bam, we had it!
Is there a book out there you wish you had written? Which one? Why?
Since Catcher in the Rye is a bit cliche, I’ll go with Hank Moody’s fictional breakout work, God Hates Us All from Showtime’s Californication. I have no idea what the book would say, but the title is just so damn brilliant. I’d also give anything to have written pretty much any of Leonard Cohen’s poems. Doesn’t matter which.
What’s your next book?
I have this idea for a book that subverts the way we usually think about the relationship between faith and practice. What if, instead of starting in the clouds with a bunch of esoteric, lofty propositions about some God way up in heaven, we begin on the ground, in the trenches, amid the dirt and grime of our everyday earthly lives? What if, rather than saying, “God is A, B, and C” and trusting the trickle-down sanctification of free-market theism to make us good people, we say, “I want to be X, Y, and Z,” and then seek out the spiritual principles that are most likely to produce the results we are hoping for?
It’s a kind of thought experiment about faith from the ground up. No title yet, but stay tuned!